Famously dubbed “the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers” by England’s King Edward VII, Cartier has introduced a staggering 104-strong collection at the 27th Biennale des Antiquaires. Aptly named the Royal Collection, it was a glittering reminder of the Maison‘s noble pedigree. Featuring large precious stones of exceptional quality and provenance, most pieces take design inspiration from the gemstones’ native lands.
From the arid African plains to the mountainous pastures of Tajikistan, these exotic locales are interpreted through creative designs and ingenious craftsmanship. A bangle festooned with a 57.95-ct oval-shaped Australian fire opal, for example, is inspired by abstract Aboriginal dot paintings. Surrounding the opal is a delicate lattice of diamonds and sapphires in varying cuts, sizes and colour.
From the other side of the globe — and continuing Cartier’s fascination with Africa (a love that first bore fruit in the L’Odyssée de Cartier Parcours d’un Style collection from 2013) — is a bangle topped with a sugarloaf tanzanite of more than 79-ct. Nestled within a diamond-studded cleft surrounded by rock crystal, the majestically sized stone echoes the beauty of the cloud-shrouded Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Elsewhere, a fluidly designed necklace bearing a 32.14-ct Ceylon sapphire centre stone and design elements gleaned from ancient stupas is an ode to Sri Lanka, while a necklace featuring a 49.74-ct pear-shaped spinel from Tajikistan shows off a wreath of Edelweiss flowers, a floral species that grow in abundance on Tajikistan’s mountainous terrain.
“Our focus is on the stones: Their origins, history and culture. That’s an important expertise that we have which we want to show,” says Jacqueline Karachi-Langane, Cartier’s creative director. Indeed, when it comes to diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires to opals and pearls, Cartier’s mastery over these natural wonders is matched by its almost-exclusive access to some of the very best examples.
From legendary diamonds such as the Hope and the Indian Briolette, to hefty gemstones the likes of the 152.35-ct cabochon sapphire (featured on the famous Duchess of Windsor panther brooch) and the 202.24 grains Peregrina pearl (given to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton), these have passed through the Maison‘s expert hands to be expressed as inspiring works of bejewelled art.
This year, the tradition is upheld, perhaps a little more fervently, as Cartier shows off its possession of a wide assortment of outstandingly graded and large gemstones. Headlining the collection is the Royal Pearl tiara, affixed with a 53.84-ct pearl drop most likely harvested from the Persian Gulf. Approximately sized like a quail’s egg, this was previously owned by Queen Mary of England and passed down the royal lineage until it was eventually acquired by the Maison. Presented in its original setting, the pearl can be worn alone as a pendant (strung on a specially designed diamond chain) or fixed on an elaborately designed bejewelled structure with a complex sliding system. The result is a transformable piece of jewellery that can be worn both as a tiara and a necklace.
Demanding more than 3,000 hours of production, the Royal Pearl tiara is the most laboriously made jewellery in the entire collection. It is also one of many examples of how versatility are key considerations for the Maison. As a master of metamorphosis, Cartier has been creating convertible jewellery since the 1920s, first with pendants that double up as earrings or brooches, then secret watches that look like glamorous bangles. While such designs are nothing new for Cartier, there appears to be a larger emphasis this year.
Karachi-Langane explains: “Our first inspiration is always the stones but our second one is women: We have to study their needs and desire. Today’s women are constantly on the move; they are travelling frequently and they want to be able to live in their jewels. That is why we are producing more transformable jewellery and it is also why it’s important for us to create jewellery that is flexible and wearable.” Among the examples are a ring with a 22.64-ct emerald that can be worn in three different ways, and numerous pendants and ear clips that double up as brooches or hair ornaments. Of the lot, there are two wonderfully extravagant pieces that the Maison is particularly proud of.
The first is a complicated ruby and diamond necklace that takes its design direction from its focal stone, a 15.29-ct ruby from Mozambique. Resembling Sudanese tribal jewellery, it shows an elaborate framework of diamond and ruby beads surrounding three main stones: The ruby and two diamonds weighing 3-ct each. Worn in its entirety, the countless rows of rubies and diamonds bestow it with a ceremonial and formal style. However, a clever fastening system allows the wearer to detach the ruby strands from the necklace, transforming it into a diamond collier that is scintillating and pure in design, save for a ruby heart.
The second piece is a necklace that is completely adorned with diamonds, including a 5.12-ct kite-shaped diamond and a 1.6-ct triangular diamond. At its sweet spot is a stunning 30.21-ct IF type IIa brilliant-cut pear-shaped diamond that can be detached and worn as a ring.
“We always try to push the limits of our savoir faire so that we can introduce new techniques that have never been done before,” says Karachi-Langane. In addition to refining and devising techniques which improve the way jewellery is worn, the Maison has also proudly introduced a new micro mosaic method. Traditionally, micro mosaic — composed of equally sized little hard stone squares — is done on a levelled surface. What Cartier has done instead is to present a three-dimensional panther pendant made of agate mosaic of varying sizes. The result is a sinewy and regal animal replete with piercing sapphire blue eyes and a frill of brilliant-cut diamonds that trail down to a single large briolette-cut sapphire.
Clearly an innovator, but also a custodian of a 167-year heritage, Cartier has used the Royal Collection as a telling summation of the Maison‘s identity, skills and ideals. The gemstones remain at the centre of its universe, surrounded by other trademarks like transformable jewellery, animals, three-dimensional bejewelled structures and an enigmatic French aesthetic that Karachi-Langane simply describes as “bon gout Parisienne”.
“It’s about spirit and style. Our history is our vocabulary and we never neglect it but this needs to evolve with time,” she adds.